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CBP Agriculture Specialists Battle to Defend the Border in Baltimore

Release Date: 
May 3, 2018

BALTIMORE – U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Area Port of Baltimore encompasses a geographic range of approximately 115 miles along the Maryland coast, from Martin State Airport north of the Baltimore Seaport along the Chesapeake Bay to Annapolis. Included within the geographic boundaries are Cove Point and Piney Point, both about two hours south of the Port of Baltimore. In addition, there are hundreds of small vessel marinas within the reporting area. Although the Port of Baltimore is not known as one of the larger agriculture Ports of Entry, CBP agriculture specialists regularly discover a large variety of potentially damaging pests here.

CBP agriculture specialist inspecting shipping containers recently in Baltimore.
CBP agriculture specialist inspects shipping
containers recently in Baltimore.

Commercially, the Baltimore harbor serves more than 70 ocean carriers whose vessels make nearly 2,000 annual port visits.  Along the port’s 45-mile-long shoreline are a multitude of modern public and private cargo terminals which handle everything from bulk raw materials, to finished goods.  In 2017, the Port handled 38.4 million tons of general cargo, the third highest amount in its history, with a value of $53.9 billion.  This includes a record-setting 10.7 million tons of cargo, which was handled by the port's public terminals, up from 10.1 million tons in 2016.

The port's public terminals had a strong year in 2017. The port ranked first in the nation in handling automobiles, light trucks, farm and construction machinery, as well as imported sugar. In 2017, the port handled a record 807,194 autos and light trucks, the most of any U.S. port for the seventh consecutive year, and the first time passing the 800,000 mark.

That’s a lot of commodities passing through the port. CBP’s mission is to ensure that all import and export commodities comply with applicable U.S. laws and regulations, and pose no threat, including to U.S. agriculture resources. CBP collaborates extensively with industry partners, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), importers, shippers, terminal operators, shipping lines, and Customs brokers to continuously develop innovative methods to efficiently clear cargo and review thousands of import permits, foreign government certifications, and invoices in order to ensure that products meet import requirements.

A Baltimore CBP agriculture specialist examines a specimen following a recent inspection.
A Baltimore CBP agriculture specialist examines
a specimen following a recent inspection.

To ensure timely flow of international trade, CBP agriculture specialists rely on risk-based threat analysis to identify cargo for inspection. If CBP officers believe cargo shipments warrant a more intensive examination, containers are sent to a centralized examination area. There, agriculture specialists inspect shipments from various countries and use many techniques to target commodities from countries where these pests originate. Shipment origination points and history of prior inspections are of paramount importance when targeting and inspecting perishable shipments.

CBP’s Area Port of Baltimore has completed 3,534 such container inspections since January 2018, and agriculture specialists have issued 360 emergency action notifications and executed 625 actionable interceptions.

“Customs and Border Protections agriculture specialists at the Port of Baltimore are the first line of defense against pests and diseases that could enter the United States and create potential harm to our nation’s agriculture resources,” said Adam Rottman, Acting CBP Area Port Director for the Area Port of Baltimore.  “It is imperative to the CBP mission to detect and stop pests and diseases at the border before they can be spread elsewhere.”

Two recent interceptions illustrate the insect pest threats that CBP agriculture specialist encounter.

On October 25, 2017, CBPAS Timothy Morris performed a tailgate inspection on four containers of clay products arriving from France and found pests inside one of the containers. The shipments were safeguarded, and the pests were forwarded to the USDA entomologist for identification.  One pest was identified as Berytinus montivagus, commonly known as a stilt bug, by the national identifier and three others were identified as Candidula intersect. USDA confirmed that the stilt bug, Berytinus montivagus, was a first in port interception and a first in the nation.

Additionally, on December 12, 2017, CBP Agriculture Specialists Mark Phipps, Steven McCully and Mihai Danaila inspected a container of sand pears arriving from China, and Phipps intercepted one live Lepidoptera larvae. The shipment was safeguarded, and the pest was forwarded to the USDA entomologist for identification. The pest was identified as Grapholita sp., by the national identifier. USDA confirmed that the moth, Grapholita sp., was a first in port interception.

Khapra beetle, one of the world's most destructive insect pests.
Khapra beetle, one of the world's most
destructive insect pests.

Every year, tens of thousands of pests are intercepted by CBP agriculture specialists, who identify potential threats to the health and safety of U.S. agricultural resources based on scientific risk assessment and study. The potential impact of a pests coming into the United States can be catastrophic.

For example, California implemented extensive eradication measures following a Khapra Beetle infestation in 1953. The effort was deemed successful, but at a cost of approximately $11 million. Calculated in today’s dollars, that would be about $100 million.

Also during 2001, over 10 million cows and sheep were killed in an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom. By the time that the disease was halted in October 2001, the crisis was estimated to have cost the United Kingdom $16 billion. In today’s money, that would amount to a staggering $22 billion.

“A critical element of the Customs and Border Protection mission is to keep invasive and dangerous pests out of the United States,” said Casey Owen Durst, CBP’s Field Operations Director in Baltimore. “CBP’s agriculture specialists work tirelessly to detect and intercept prohibited food items, invasive weed seeds and insects, and plant and animal diseases that pose a threat to U.S. agricultural industries and our nation’s economy.”

On a typical day in fiscal year 2017, CBP agriculture specialists discovered 352 pests at U.S. ports of entry and 4,638 materials for quarantine.

Travelers can check the general admissibility of fruits and vegetables by consulting the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website.

Last modified: 
May 3, 2018